This Month in Football History – January

We look back at the most memorable happenings in the month of January in world of Football

January 01, 1990 – Andreas Thom Crosses the Divide

On 1st January 1990, Andreas Thom became the first East German Oberliga player to sign freely for a West German club.

When Germany was divided after World War II, a group of West German clubs re-established the pre-war German football association, the DFB. Meanwhile, East Germany established its own association, the DDR-Oberliga. Barring the occasional meeting between the East and West German national teams in international competitions, the two were kept largely separate until November 1989, when growing support for reunification led both associations to allow unrestricted competition across the two leagues.

Towards the end of 1989, Thom received permission from the DDR-Oberliga to move across the border, the first East German player to do so (though there had been defections, including three footballers from the East German national team earlier that year). He struck a deal with Bayer Leverkusen and joined them on this day.

January 02, 1921 – The Birth of Cruzeiro

On 2nd January 1921, a group of Italian immigrants in Brazil founded the Sociedade Esportiva Palestra Itália in Belo Horizonte. Now known as Cruzeiro, it has since become one of Brazil’s most successful clubs.

The club identified strongly with Italy, originally open only to Italians and even adopting their colours from the Italian flag. But after Brazil entered World War II in 1942, the government prohibited club names from including references to the Axis nations. So, after a couple of interim iterations, Palestra Itália became Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, using the Spanish name for the Southern Cross constellation. They also abandoned the Italian tricolour for blue and white.

January 04, 1909 – Bienvenido[1], España

On 4 January 1909, representatives of several clubs met in Madrid to form the Spanish football federation. The meeting was held at the offices of Real Madrid, with club president Adolfo Meléndez serving as the federation’s first secretary.

Originally named the Federación Española de Clubs de Football, the new organization followed the model of England’s FA, with the express purpose of creating a Spanish national team. After 11 years, they finally accomplished that mission when Spain played their first full international, a 1-0 win over Denmark in the 1920 Summer Olympics, where they took the silver medal.

January 08, 2010 – Togo Attacked

On 8th January 2010, gunmen fired upon two Togo team buses, killing 3 people and wounding 7 others.

The buses – one containing the national team and the other holding their luggage – were travelling through the Angolan province of Cabinda, where Togo were scheduled to begin their Africa Cup of Nations campaign three days later. Although part of Angola, Cabinda is an exclave, separated by the rest of the nation by the Republic of the Congo. Shortly after the team crossed the border separating the two, a group of Cabindan separatists ambushed the travelling party in a machine gun attack that lasted approximately 30 minutes.

Two different rebel groups later claimed responsibility for the attack, though one claimed that it was not directed at Togo, but instead at the Angolan security forces guarding them. The gunmen fired multiple shots into both buses, however, killing three people – assistant coach Amelete Abalo, press officer Stan Ocloo, and driver Mário Adjoua. The list of wounded included 5 players as well as the team doctor and physiotherapist.

January 18, 1961- Sky’s the Limit

On 18th January 1961, England finally lifted the wage restriction for footballers that had previously capped their earnings at £20 per week (£17 in the close season).

The wage limit was one of two concerns for players of the time. The other was the retain-and-transfer system, which gave the clubs complete authority regarding player movement from one club to another. Together, the two matters nearly prompted a player strike in January 1961, backed by the Professional Footballers’ Association and their chairman, Jimmy Hill.

Hill, who played for Brentford from 1949-52, then for Fulham from 1952-61, became the PFA chairman in 1957 and continued the organization’s longstanding opposition to the wage restriction. The Football Association and the Football League, however, argued that the £20 weekly wage was a fair one, being 25% higher than the average industrial wage at the time. But at a PFA meeting earlier that January, Bolton’s Tommy Banks generated support for a challenge, pointing out that anyone could take a crack at being a miner, but few miners could play football in front of 30,000 spectators every week.

The threat of the impending strike forced the authorities to capitulate and lift the wage. While many players saw their wages doubled as a result, Hill’s Fulham teammate Johnny Haynes was the greatest beneficiary, becoming England’s first £100-a-week player.

January 25, 1995 – Kung Fu Cantona

On 25th January 1995, Manchester United drew 1-1 with hosts Crystal Palace in a match that proved to be very costly for United and their star French forward, Eric Cantona.

Since arriving at Old Trafford from Leeds in November 1992, Cantona had become a United favourite, helping them to the League title in his first two seasons, as well as being named the 1994 PFA Footballer of the Year. Unfortunately, he had also displayed a quick temper, once receiving two red cards in two successive matches.

In that match against Palace, both teams were scoreless early in the second half when Cantona was sent off in the 48th minute for kicking Palace defender Richard Shaw. As he was being escorted off the pitch, he suddenly turned and launched himself feet-first over the advertising hoardings into Palace supporter Matthew Simmons, who had been heaping verbal abuse on the Frenchman. Down to 10 men, United managed to take a 1-0 lead six minutes later, but could not prevent Palace from equalizing in the 79th minute to earn the draw.

Cantona was suspended for the rest of the season, sentenced to 120 hours of community service, and fined £10,000. Without him, United fell just short of winning another title, finishing one point behind League champions Blackburn Rovers.

January 26, 1884 – The Great British Tradition

On 26th January 1884, Ireland hosted the very first British Home Championship match, losing 0-5 to eventual winners Scotland.

The previous year, the football associations of the four British Home Nations -England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales – agreed to formalize their regular internationals in an annual tournament. They decided that each of the four members would play single matches against the other three, earning two points for a win and one point for a draw, with the champions being the team with the most points at the end.

[1] Welcome